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What’s leaking under our river?

| March 15, 2023 2:00 AM

Municipalities throughout the United States are choosing to take the plunge and run utility lines under their rivers. Although intentions may be good, there are real risks associated with these types of decisions.

In 2018, Sara Konrad Baranowski of the Times Citizen reported that the Iowa Falls City Council approved the replacement of two 9-year-old sewer pipes that lie under the Iowa River. At first glance this might appear to be a story about a heroic City Council that was coming to the rescue, however, the deeper issue was the fact that the community found themselves in this situation only 9 years after the sewer lines were constructed.

According to the article, the repairs were going to cost the city about $440,000 and city crews would have to add two brand-new pipes and remove the old pipes. As a result of the contractor bond expiring, the city was held responsible for fronting the costs for the repairs. Engineers linked the break to river flow changes that caused a scour hole to form in the silt around the pipes, therefore, exposing them. Once exposed, a tree trunk floating down the river caught the pipe and broke it. The line break increased risks of sewage backups for citizens west of the river, overflow from pump stations into the river, and lowered water levels that could potentially kill fish and impact recreational activities.

Although this is just one example, we can safely assume that there are multiple instances just like this happening across the U.S. It is clear that the risk is high when it comes to running septic lines under a river.

This type of decision should be a hard NO and hopeful developers who recommend that septic lines be run under the river should not be entertained. If growth outside city limits is inevitable for municipalities, then city officials need to find and approve the right place and not force the wrong place to become the right place. Preserving our wild places like wetlands, rivers, and wildlife corridors should be at the top of the priority list.

Matt Hall

Columbia Falls

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